July 25, 2013

Review : Camelbak Marathoner Vest

  • Type : Hydration
  • Use : Road / trail running 
  • Price : $100

As I try and test more hydration vests, I come to realize that more isn’t necessarily better. In the increasingly crowded space of hydration products, it seems like every company out there has come with a solution of their own. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are really good, especially if your budget is unlimited, but I’ve come to find it’s not the exotic, fancy features that make a really good hydration vest.

I’ve said it before, my usual point of reference when testing a vest is the Nathan Endurance, which I about wore to shreds. It convinced me that a good vest needs to fulfill certain imperatives, such as:

  • Quick, no-hassle bladder management (filling, fitting, cleaning)
  • No or minimal swinging and sloshing
  • Leak-proof
  • Lightweight
  • Optimal storage

Even though Camelbak's Marathoner vest felt, at first glance, like the little brother of the Ultra LR, I gave it a good couple long-distance runs in various environments to see if it was up for the task.

Road and trail test
The first obvious difference between the Marathoner and the Ultra LR is bulk. At two-thirds of the weight, the Marathoner actually feels like less than half of the bigger, more backpack-like Ultra. It uses the simplest of designs; two shoulder pads connected to the bladder by a single v-shaped adjustment strap. The 2-liter (70 oz) pouch itself is also a standard, upright design, with the signature huge screw-in cap that makes all Camelbak bladders instantly recognizable.

Adjusting the vest is key to making sure it stays comfortable and won’t swing around. This is done by removing the bladder and sliding the shoulder pads in or out, then securing them with Velcro bands. The double frontal straps can be adjusted by sliding them along most of the length of the shoulder pads, then adjusting the clips. I think there is enough room here to fit any chest type, a feature female runners of all sizes should very much enjoy.

Even though the Marathoner sheds the two belt pockets found on the Ultra, it offers ample storage space with its two very large chest pockets, which can easily accommodate extra bottles if needed. The genius of the Marathoner resides in the mesh fabric that covers the shoulder straps. A slit in the fabric allows you to slide anything you want inside the shoulder pads, from extra gels to arm warmers to a set of keys (and they won’t jiggle).

Wearing and using the Marathoner on the run is a breeze. It sits very lightly on the shoulders and doesn’t swing around. It features two clips to hold the drinking tube along the right shoulder pad, but I prefer to use only the upper clip, then run the tube across my chest and hold the bite-valve with the bungee cord on the left pad.

I never suffered any shortage of storage space, even in longer runs up to 20-25 miles. The mesh pocket on the back can even carry an extra piece of clothing if needed, which makes it suitable for trail runs in changing environments. When running in the city at night, I also appreciated the multiple reflective bands in the front and the back of the vest.

Where the Marathoner really shines, in my opinion, is in the bladder management. I’ve said it before, the proprietary Antidote system is probably the best in the industry, with its click-valve to remove the drinking tube without any spills and its huge screw cap that anyone, even an exhausted ultra runner in their darkest hour, can easily operate. Furthermore, since the Marathoner’s bladder is the standard, vertical type, it’s even easier to remove and replace than the “lumbar” version of the Ultra LR, which is sometimes too exotic for aid station helpers to quickly figure out and can prove a hassle.

I have come to like the Marathoner better than the Ultra LR, as it is simpler, lighter and offers plenty of storage for my needs, with the added benefit of being significantly cheaper. Whereas the Ultra LR is somewhat unique as a mix between a vest and a pack, I think that runners who have the luxury of owning both a vest and a running backpack will appreciate the lighter weight and simplicity of the Marathoner on their long runs, whether on the roads or trails.

High points
  • Simple, efficient no-frills design
  • Excellent bladder and click-valve system
  • Multiple adjustments for an optimal fit
  • Clever mesh pockets along the shoulder pads
  • Very appealing price at around $100

Low points
  • Maybe not as roomy as other, larger vests

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by Camelbak free of charge, without any conditions.


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